Expectations were high at the keynote address that kicked off the Google I/O developer conference. But before you close the tab and move on to reading about a topic that actually interests you, hear me out: This year, the tech giant from Mountain View presumably had a lot of genuinely interesting products that would take us to the future.
Okay, maybe not that far ahead.
But to a future where a device reminiscent of Vegeta’s scouter (to be clear, we’re referring to Project Aura, formerly Google Glass) is actually something people would want to wear.
A tomorrow where smartphones are more like Lego (Project Ara) and less like single slabs of plastic or metal.
And self-driving cars are safe enough for widespread use.
Google instead seized the limelight to introduce two new communication apps — and two more answers to the question “What comes after Hangouts and Messenger?” And Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp. And Snapchat, Viber, Line, WeChat, Skype, BlackBerry Messenger, and, well, you get the picture.
Say “allo” to Allo, Google’s new messaging app.
But whereas Hangouts and Messenger don’t add anything fresh to the conversation, Allo leverages on Google’s AI strategy (by way of an integrated virtual assistant) to make itself heard.
It understands how we use language and can respond to messages without you typing anything, which sounds unsettling and a bit like when the IT guy gains remote access to your computer.
It’s even smart enough to respond to photos. So if someone sends you a picture of, say, a bowl of pasta, you may see a suggestion like “Yummy!” or “Oh-em-gee,” if you’re an “Oh-em-gee” type of person. Allo also learns over time, so the suggestions should get better as you use the app.
Also part of the attraction is how it can make your conversations more expressive. You can enlarge or shrink the size of an emoji or text by dragging the Send button upward or downward, giving the effect of screaming or muttering into the digital void.
There’s also Incognito Mode for sending messages that disappear into the ether, just like Snapchats, or encrypted ones that not even the big G can breach.
Then there’s Duo, a video-calling app that’s also encrypted end-to-end and performs well on slow networks.
But its billboard feature is called Knock Knock, which lets you see callers and the context in which they’re calling before picking up.
Your boss looking annoyed or stressed? Answer immediately. A college mate who’s been pestering you about investing in one of his ideas? That can wait indefinitely.
Both Allo and Duo will be available for Android and iOS “this summer.” Which begs the question: Can you nudge your loved ones to use yet another messaging service? We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?